> Piero della Francesca
the "master of light"
after year the bright, vigorous sun immersed in an intensely
blue sky inaugurates spring in Tuscany. I won't go any further
with this description because it is not easy to describe spring.
I would risk sounding rhetorical. Even though there are thousands
of postcards, posters, and calendars that are produced every
year in this season in Tuscany (some very beautiful), I still
think that the best "photographer" of the Tuscan spring is a
painter. He lived more than 500 years ago.
I'm not thinking of Botticelli and his famous "Primavera" preserved
at the Uffizi. I am thinking of Piero della Francesca. Those
of you who have been to Tuscany in the springtime or in the
beginning of summer will surely remember the high sun, the soft
shadows and the light colors that seem to crash into everything
from the ground to the sky. That same light and those same colors
were precious elements to Piero both in the frescoes of Arezzo,
Borgo San Sepolcro, Monterchi and in the tables of Urbino, London,
Piero della Francesca is considered by today's international
critics to be the best painter of the 1400's in Italy. Truthfully,
these types of classifications have an extremely relative value,
but nonetheless, they swear by the incredible talent of the
painter from Arezzo who has now become world renowned. Why?
If you have a chance to take a trip to Tuscany, maybe to Arezzo
or nearby, you will discover that right in Arezzo there is San
Francesco Church. Its frescoed walls were done completely by
Piero during the 1450's. If you can, try to come between now
and the beginning of July and in the morning if possible. Between
the hours of 9am and 11am is when there is the best sunlight.
Once inside the church, stop at any of the scenes in the cycle
of frescoes that represent the "Story of the True Cross" (by
the way, you have probably seen them if you saw the film "The
English Patient", when Hannah (Juliette Binoche) enters the
church and swings from a rope along the painted walls which
she illuminates with a torch. The effect in the film was very
beautiful, but unfortunately, the frescoes were a mediocre imitation
of the originals. The frescoes have been recently restored.
Take your time and observe the light, luminous effect that Piero
gave to the sky, the figures, houses and the countryside in
Then go outside the church and look around. You will notice
that there are no differences. The same space, buildings, but
above all, there is that same light and atmosphere which is
so real, concrete, but mostly luminous, clear and serene. You
can play this game again and again with Piero's paintings and
little by little you will have the impression that the subjects
were painted on transparent paper against a window pane. Those
scenes will seem to come to life before your very eyes as if
the frescoes could enjoy that same light with which the sun
illuminates the world outside of the church.
The reason why Piero della Francesca was defined as the "Master
of the Light" will soon become very clear to you. No other was
able to fixate the soul and character of a Tuscan spring.
"Ars utinam mores animumque effingere posset! Pulchrior in
terris nulla tabella foret."
(If art could represent character and the soul there wouldn't
be a painting on this earth more beautiful).
Marziale, 1° Century Latin poet.